Public Transport, lonely people and steamed glasses



Since last Module, on my CRJ I started confronting interesting projects made by photographers who inspired my work as practitioner. In Module 2, my research focused on a comparison between Katy Grannan and Adam Barthos’ projects named, respectively, “Boulevard” and “Boulevards”, discovering two very different approaches to the topic. The first one rotates around people met by Grannan wandering different boulevards and who wanted to be photographed by her and the second one is about urban spaces, like empty streets and backyards. Both artists created their work in different cities and they provided me with a clear demonstration of the idea of personal and artistic interpretation applied to a subject matter and I had two great examples of interiority and personalities expressed through Photography.

During these weeks, I analysed “Tokyo Compression” by Michael Wolf and I realised there are some similarities with the photographic project titled “On the night bus”, created by Nick Turpin.

As written since the title of this article, lonely people, public transport and steamed glasses seem to be three elements that connect these two four-year duration projects. Of course, they can’t be seen and interpreted in the same way because, conceptually, they are referred to different situations.

While Wolf “focuses on the craziness of Tokyo’s underground system” (Schüle, 2010) portraying Japanese commuters constrained in those cars, Turpin’s subjects are more physically isolated in London buses, but the sense of loneliness pervades both projects’ images. While in the first case those glasses that work as a filter between the camera and the sitters are wet due to the condensation generated by thousands of passengers, in the second case it is caused by the difference of temperature between the inside and the outside, the buses and the city, even creating, in my opinion, a deeper sense of separation between two realities coexisting and colliding.

Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression Three, 2010, Tokyo, released on Youtube on February 2017. ©Michael Wolf, 2010.

In “Tokyo Compression” sitters are aware of the presence of the photographer, placed on the platform waiting for those trains to transit, in order to take his photos. In some cases, people even try to hide their identity, definitely not happy to be portrayed not having the chance to escape that situation. Those wet train-glasses enhance the sense of claustrophobia: they are breathing each other’s breath, like cells of a bigger and sick organism, we can see faces squeezed on those wet windows and traces of the hands of those passengers who left those cars before. Then, how can we see isolation in a so “overcrowded” situation? Because there is no interaction among those individuals. They do not communicate, they do not even look at each other: they almost seem in trance, trying to mentally escape that context.

Nick Turpin, On a night bus, 2016, London, released on Nick Turpin’s Vimeo page on October 2016. ©Nick Turpin, 2016.

Like into the previous one, in this project, created by Nick Turpin in London, we can observe commuters portrayed through wet glasses, but here the situation is completely different. Those windows are steamed due to the fact that the photographer took his shots during winter months and they enhance a sense of poetry rather than an “entrapment” one: his portraits almost look like paintings and those traces into the condensation seem like brush strokes made by the artist himself.  The sense of isolation we can still detect, is more melancholic, but always provided by a lack of interaction among most of his unaware sitters, even physically distant among them. They don’t even interplay with the photographer himself, since he portrayed them from a rooftop at night. His vantage point is voyeuristic, but looking at his photographs I did not feel a sense of distance between him and his subjects. The author usually travelled on those night-buses and maybe this is why we do not detect any detachment in his perspective: he basically portrayed a sort of “Community” he belongs to, like if he was observing his own situation from the outside, combining his perspective and inner-self with the one of those people.

Personally speaking, I faced both situations since I have been living in London for a while and I had the chance to travel in Tokyo by underground several times. While observing Londoners going back home after a long day of work (or, even worse, an night shift) make me feel almost nostalgic, recalling in my mind all those hours spent on silent night buses reading a book or just looking outside the window at the City passing by while wishing to reach my bed as fast as I could, I remember with a deep sense of anxiety Tokyo’s train-cars in which I used to enter with the awareness that I would have been trapped into the crowd for long minutes (they seemed hours to me!). Both projects represent brilliant references to my work, since watching at those faces is almost like looking through those individuals and detecting their emotional states, their thoughts. My aim is definitely to improve as practitioner and maybe, one day, I will create such a great body of work, too.



Barthos Adam, Boulevards, 1. Edition 11/2005, Steidl Books, Göttingen.

Grannan Katy, Boulevard, 2011, Fraenkel Gallery, Slp Edition, San Francisco.

Schüle Christian, Tokyo Compression, Essay, 2010, Peperoni Books, Berlin, Germany, pp. 93-104.

Turpin Nick, On The Night Bus, 2016, Hoxton Minipress, London ,UK.

Turpin Nick, On The Night Bus, 2016, video released on Nick Turpin’s Vimeo page on October 2016

Wolf Michael/Schüle Christian, Tokyo Compression Three, 2010, Peperoni Books, Berlin, Germany.

Wolf Michael, Tokyo Compression Three, video released on Youtube on February 2017.

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